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All-Star break arrives at right time for still-in-1st Twins

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MINNEAPOLIS — There is hardly a team that deserves or desires this All-Star week more than the Minnesota Twins, whose powerful performance over the first half of the season was one of the biggest surprises in baseball.

The Twins could take the break as a symbolic reward for consecutive residence in first place in the American League Central since April 20. They can sure use the extra rest, too, an antidote to all of the physical ailments that piled up over the last several weeks.

“There’s really only one time over the course of nine months that you get to wake up two days in a row and do whatever you want,” rookie manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday. “And there’s something to that. So I’m sure it’ll be a good feeling for everyone to take a little break, choose what you’re going to do and who you’re going to hang out with and what coffee you’re going to drink, and that’s it.”

Fueled by the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues , the Twins (56-33) are on pace for more than 100 wins. They have reached that mark only once, in 1965, when they went to the World Series. With 166 home runs, they’ve already matched their 2018 total and set an all-time, pre-All-Star break major league record. Their .497 slugging percentage would be the best in history if it can stand up for the whole season. They lead three-time defending division champion Cleveland by 5½ games.

The darker view is that the Indians have sliced six games off their division deficit since June 3. The Twins still had an 11-game edge on June 15, but the Indians have won 16 of the last 21 games — including six straight. The two teams open a three-game series Friday in Cleveland.

“Perspective is a big thing in trying not to hang on every loss, hang on every win, and trying to remain consistent,” starting pitcher Kyle Gibson said. “I think everyone is going to enjoy their break and show up to Cleveland ready to go.”

Most of them, at least. First baseman C.J. Cron was the latest regular to land on the injured list, with inflammation in his right thumb. Nine of Minnesota’s 13 most-used position players have been on the injured list, a depletion that contributed to the mediocre 9-10 record since June 15.

Left fielder Eddie Rosario, who had a strong case for the All-Star game before his sprained left ankle sidelined him on June 26, will be expected back to face the Indians. Starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who did make the All-Star team, ought to be ready for his next turn after having a start skipped due to blister on his right middle finger.

“If we thought we were going to win the division by 20 games and go ahead by however many you say and then never look back, we’re probably kidding ourselves,” Baldelli said. “We’re optimistic. We expect to win every day. But you have to know that there are good teams in this league, and whether we’re talking about the Indians or any other team, you have to expect that you’re going to deal with adversity.”

Fans of the Twins fondly remember the surge in 2006 to overcome deficits in the division race of 12 games on July 15 and 10½ games on Aug. 7. The 2003 team was 7½ games behind at the break before rallying to win the AL Central. Clearly, the current lead on Cleveland leaves little room for comfort, even if the Twins would have taken it without hesitation if offered in spring training.

“They are probably becoming the team that everybody thought they were going to be,” Gibson said.

The Twins will return on July 16 to Target Field, where they’ve sold out seven games this year after totaling three sellouts over the last three seasons.

“We’ve got to stay focused and go home and enjoy these four days with our families,” starting pitcher Martín Pérez said, “and come back in the second half and do our jobs and win.”

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More AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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